Do ministers need to be ordered to handle the floods?

28 December 2014

How times have changed?

In 1969, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was diagnosed with cancer and told that he had four years to live. Around the same time, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman’s neck cancer flared up again and his heart condition worsened.

Hardly anyone knew that Malaysia’s top two leaders were on a death watch. The doctors were sworn to secrecy and they went about governing the country, implementing policies and scouting successors.

It would have been so easy and understandable if both acted in their self-interest and stood down from the 24/7 job of looking after Malaysia.

Malaysians would have understood if they had opted for a less stressful life and put their young families ahead of everyone else.

But they didn’t.

Abdul Razak and Ismail understood better than anyone that it is a privilege and an honour to lead this blessed country. You are entrusted with the position of the Prime Ministership and Deputy Prime Ministership by millions.

It is not a job. It is a calling to serve your citizens. And when it is a calling, fatigue, tedium and apathy have no place. You become the servant of your people.

But times have changed.

Malaysia is in the throes of the worst floods in history with more than 100,000 people being forced to leave their homes. People have lost their homes and even their hope.

But life goes on for PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his ministers. Like clockwork, they went on their holidays, seemingly unperturbed by news that this was no ordinary flood.

Only after a barrage of criticism over news that he was in Hawaii playing golf with US President Barack Obama, did Najib cut short his holiday. He has since gone to ground zero of the disaster – Kelantan – and ordered disbursement of more funds.

Today, the PM ordered all his ministers to cancel their holidays and return to work.

In this age of smartphones and instant communications, did these ministers need to be told how bad the flood situation is and be told to come back to work?

The PM has also defended his golf jaunt. He misses the point of public service as do his ministers who have to be recalled to work.

If you have to be nudged to feel empathy and to be reminded that yours is a calling and not a job, then God help Malaysia.

Some opposition politicians and government critics are drawing parallels between the government’s lacklustre response to the floods and the Bush administration’s limp performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

That discussion is for another time.

We are just mourning the dearth of Malaysian leaders who understand what a privilege it is to lead this country.

How times have changed. – December 28, 2014.

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